[Marxism] Questioning the "Civil War as American Tragedy"
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 16 13:22:07 MDT 2011
Anyone who's going to deal in Civil War studies really needs to
take a moment to grapple with James McPherson's This Mighty
Scourge. I doubt that this was McPherson's intent, but the first
essay in the book is really what set me on the path of questioning
the "Civil War as American Tragedy" narrative on to the "Civil War
as American Revolution" line of thinking.
I suspect McPherson might not agree with my reframing--I'm
probably being a bit too pat. Nevertheless, his essay demonstrates
that the idea of the Civil War as avoidable tragedy didn't
materialize out of thin air; it comes not just out of American
popular memory, but right out of American historiography.
The origins of the American Tragedy are rooted in the Civil War
denialism of historians who held that the war wasn't about slavery
but, in the words of Charles Beard, "a sectional struggle" between
two powers divided by "accidents of climate, soil and geography."
Attendant to that view was the Fitzhughesque notion that "wage
slavery" was as bad as "chattel slavery." When you reduce the
Civil War to a fight between two equivalent systems of labor, it
becomes much easier to believe that 600,000 Americans died in vain.
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